Report: State Failed Severely in Helping Gaza Strip Evacuees

The state clearly failed to fulfill its obligations toward the evacuees from the Gaza settlements, making them "refugees in their own country," according to the final report by the state commission that investigated the aftermath of the disengagement.

The committee's chairman, retired Supreme Court judge Eliyahu Matza, said there had been a "severe failure of the executive branch."

"It's perfectly obvious," he told a press conference yesterday. "Most of the evacuees are still living in frefab homes. Most of their permanent housing has not yet been built. In some cases, the construction has not yet started, and in others it hasn't even been planned.

"The picture is also very grim as far as employment is concerned. Unemployment among the evacuees is double the national average. This includes those who received compensation but for lack of a possibility of finding new employment used up their compensation funds over the years."

Commission member Yedidia Stern said that "the disengagement resulted in the gravest harm to civil rights in the history of the state. There's a profound problem of an inability to assist people who were hurt by the state."

The commission said that ministries failed to prioritize the issue and that the Disengagement Authority was a "toothless tiger." The authority was given extensive responsibilities, almost like a small-scale government, but not the powers to carry out these responsibilities," Matza said.

The commission, however, did not make any personal conclusions in its report, saying the failures were "systemic."

"Above all else, this commission found that serious difficulties in governance, typical of the Israeli authorities' conduct, made rehabilitation work all the harder," the commission wrote. "We are aware of the importance of bureaucracy for proper government, but we concluded that this balance was violated in this case and the price was paid by the evacuees."

The commission set the end of 2011 as the target date to have an overwhelming majority of the evacuees settled in permanent housing, and to have the temporary sites dismantled. "We hope they will be able to live up to our ambitious schedule," Matza said. "We hear complaints that doing that would take five years. 2011 is realistic if there's cooperation and the efforts are focused."

As for the evacuees themselves, the commission ruled that many of them "have contributed significantly to the current miserable reality."

"Some of the evacuees chose to tarry when they could have hurried up in choosing their place of permanent settlement, in getting a plot of land from the state, in submitting construction plans and in building their homes," the report said.

"Many of them could have taken their fate into their hands earlier ... and worked out differences with the authorities while building their homes, without waiting for every last one of their demands to be met. Some demands were exaggerated."

The report, however, largely spared Benjamin Netanyahu's government; Matza said the current leadership did not bear responsibility for past failures. The commission also commended the government's approach to its interim report, published in September.

However, Stern said that "this matter must conclude before the end of 2011. If it does not, the failure will be the responsibility of Netanyahu's government. We are tired of the prime ministers' rhetoric."

Stern also noted that the "religious and spiritual leadership of the evacuees also failed by deluding the evacuees." But he stressed that this was his personal opinion and not the commission's. The Prime Minister's Office said in response that "Netanyahu told commission members he would continue working intensively to implement the report's recommendations." It quoted Netanyahu as saying that "we as a government are committed to bringing each and every evacuee to a permanent home of his own. This report shows that the current government, which I lead, has worked and will work to finish taking care of the evacuees."

The statement added that Netanyahu instructed his office's director-general, Eyal Gabai, and Disengagement Authority chief Bentzi Lieberman to implement the report's recommendations immediately.

Yaakov Galanti, an aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, said yesterday that Olmert "took office after the disengagement had already taken place, and already in January 2006 found himself in an election campaign. As soon as a new government was set up in March 2006, all issues that remained open were dealt with. There were many bureaucratic problems, and some groups were working to prevent agreements with the government."